Ancient Grains

Ancient Grain 1


There has been an upsurge of interest in ancient grains. They are thought to be healthier for us & have found a place on various superfood lists. The grains that are considered to be ancient or heritage grains may surprise you. You may even be more surprised to see that one of our most common grains is not listed; wheat as it is grown today.

I will be looking at the ancient grains that Oldways, Whole Grains Council says are overlooked by the  “Western Palate”. Teff, millet, amaranth, sorghum & quinoa. Recipes for each will be included 🙂 These grains are each a powerhouse of protein, fiber, vitamins & minerals. But so are other grains & cereals. Incorporate them into your meals to make for a more interesting, healthy diet.

Oldways, Whole Grains Councildefinition of ancient grains: “There is no official definition of ‘ancient grains.’ All whole grains in the larger sense are “ancient” — they all can trace their roots back to the beginnings of time.

However, here at the Whole Grains Council, we generally define ancient grains loosely as grains that are largely unchanged over the last several hundred years. 

This means that modern wheat (constantly bred and changed) is not an ancient grain, while einkorn, emmer/farro, Kamut®, and spelt would be considered ancient grains in the wheat family. Heirloom varieties of other common grains — such as black barley, red and black rice, blue corn — might also be considered ancient grains. Other grains largely ignored until recently by Western palates (such as sorghum, teff, millet, quinoa, amaranth) would also be widely considered to be ancient grains. Sometimes less common grains, like buckwheat, or wild rice, are also included.

Let’s have a look…

Teff: Gluten free. It is high in iron, magnesium, & calcium. 1 cup of dry Teff: Fiber: 15 grams/cup, protein: 26 grams/cup.

Oldways, Whole Grain Council: “This nutritious and easy-to-grow type of millet is largely unknown outside of Ethiopia, India and Australia. Today it is getting more attention for its sweet, molasses-like flavor and its versatility; it can be cooked as porridge, added to baked goods, or even made into “teff polenta.” Teff grows in three colors: red, brown and white.”

I have had teff in breads but I have not tried cooking with it. I like the sweet, molasses flavor. I bought a package of red teff to try. 

Recipe links: 

New York Times-Teff & Oatmeal Pancakes 

Cheat Sheet-7 Tremendous Teff Recipes to Try Today 

Maskal TeffList of Teff recipes by this Teff company.

Whole Foods Market-Tomato & Mushroom Teff Polenta I love polenta. It is like a thick mush. 

Oldways, Whole Grain Council: Look under “Cooking Teff”

Millet: Gluten free, high in antioxidants & magnesium. 1 cup of dry millet: Fiber: 17 grams/cup, protein: 22 grams/cup.

 Oldways, Whole Grains Council: “Millet is not just one grain, but the name given to a group of several different small-seeded grains from several different genera of the grass family Poaceae. Four different millets are most commonly cultivated worldwide, listed here, starting with the most widely produced:

Pearl millet [Pennisetum glaucum] This is the one that is most common in our stores. It is the one that I use. 

Foxtail millet [Setaria italica]

Proso millet, also called hog, common or broom corn millet [Panicum miliaceum]

Finger millet, also called ragi in India [Eleusine coracana]

Fonio [Digitaria exilis]

“Millet grains are usually small and yellowish in color. They have a mild flavor that pairs well with other foods. Most sources recommend cooking millet with about 2 ½ cups of liquid for each cup of millet grain.

Like most other whole gains, millet can be made into pilafs or breakfast cereals, or added to breads, soups or stews. It can also be popped like corn and eaten as a snack.  You can substitute up to about 30% millet flour in your favorite baking recipes, and even more in foods like cookies that do not need to rise as much.” 

Millet is one of my favorite grains. I like it better than quinoa. More texture. I like to serve millet just like rice. I also like to use it in veggie burgers; it holds them together. 

Recipe links:

Oldways Whole Grain Council  Look under “Cooking With Millet”. Reicipes & cooking tips.


Eating Well-Mediterranean Burgers 

One Green Planet-8 Incredible Ways to Cook With Millet Interesting recipes. 

Quinoa: Gluten free. Per 1 cup of cooked quinoa. Fiber: 5 grams, Protein 8 grams. It is a good source of iron, copper, thiamin, vitamin B6, magnesium, &  folate.

Oldways Whole Grain Council: “Quinoa (Chenopodium quinoa, or goosefoot) is in fact not technically a cereal grain at all, but is instead what we call a “pseudo-cereal” – our name for foods that are cooked and eaten like grains and have a similar nutrient profile. Botanically, quinoa is related to beets, chard and spinach, and in fact the leaves can be eaten as well as the grains. It’s a testimonial to how far quinoa has come in the last five years, that most people now know it’s pronounced KEEN-wah, not kwin-OH-a.”

There are many varieties of Quinoa & they come in a array of colors. In the U.S., you mainly see red or white. I prefer to use the red quinoa, it has a nuttier flavor. Most people like the white & say it is more flavorful. Try them both & see what you think. 

Recipe links:

Oldways Whole Grain Council: Look under “Cooking Tips and Recipes With Quinoa”.


Cooking Light-Cooking With Quinoa: 31 Recipes 

Amaranth: Gluten free. 1 cup cooked: fiber 5 grams/cup & protein 9 grams/cup. It is high in minerals, such as calcium, iron, phosphorous,& carotenoids.

Oldways Whole Grain Council   In all fairness to whole grains everywhere, we need to “out” amaranth as a bit of an imposter.  It isn’t a true cereal grain in the sense that oats, wheat, sorghum, and most other grains are.  “True cereals” all stem from the Poaceae family of plants, while amaranth (among others) is often referred to as a pseudo-cereal, meaning it belongs to a different plant species.  So why are these interlopers almost always included in the whole grain roundup?  Because their overall nutrient profile is similar to that of cereals, and more importantly, pseudo-cereals like amaranth have been utilized in traditional diets spanning thousands of years in much the same way as the “true cereals” have been.”

I have combined amaranth with other grains & served it with vegetables. Looking at the recipes below, I think I need to branch out with this grain 🙂

Recipe links:

OOLA-17 MUST-TRY AMARANTH RECIPES THAT WILL HAVE YOU GOING GAGA OVER THIS NEW TRENDY GRAIN   Amaranth & Feta Phyllo Triangles sound really good. A healthy variation of spanikopita. You can substitute the butter for olive oil or coconut oil.

My Recipes-Toubouleh-Style Amaranth Salad 

Oldways Whole Grain Council Look under “After All, Amaranth is Made for Eating” 

Home and Gardens: Perfectly Popped Amaranth! We have popped amaranth. A bit tricky but yummy!

Sorghum: Gluten free. 1 cup dry sorghum: Protein: 22 grams, & fiber: 12 grams. It is high in  niacin, riboflavin, thiamin, magnesium, iron, calcium, & potassium.

Oldways, Whole Grain Council: “Ask a hundred people if they’ve ever eaten sorghum and chances are, they’ll have no idea what you’re talking about. However, sorghum, a cereal grain, is the fifth most important cereal crop in the world, largely because of its natural drought tolerance and versatility as food, feed and fuel. In Africa and parts of Asia, sorghum is primarily a human food product, while in the United States it is used mainly for livestock feed and in a growing number of ethanol plants. However, the United States also has seen food usage on the rise, thanks to the gluten-free benefits of sorghum for those with celiac disease.”

I bought a bag of sorghum & tried popping it last night. It takes awhile to get it popping & you have to shake it frequently. Make sure you use a heavy bottomed stainless steel pan. It looked like tiny popped corn, smelled & tasted like it too. Not sure it was worth the effort other than it was a fun thing to try 🙂 Popped sorghum is a popular snack in India. 

Recipe Links:

New York Times_Sorghum Bowl With Back Beans, Amaranth & Avocado  

Oldways, Whole Grain Council Look under “So Easy to Use”

Bobs Red Mill: Popped Sorghum This is the recipe I used.

Additional Resources:

  • 1,000 Gluten Free Recipes  by Carol Fenster, Ph.D. Published 2008. Go gluten-free with ease! For the best all-purpose gluten-free cookbook, look no further. This 700+ page book contains delicious gluten-free recipes for muffins, breads, pizzas, pastas, casseroles, cookies and more! Also includes hundreds of recipes for all-American favorites, flavorful international dishes and sophisticated special-occasion fare.
  • BBC: Why Do Americans Love Ancient Grains. Would you like to taste the health-giving grain found in the tomb of King Tutankhamun? Or feast on the unprocessed kernels said to have been stored on the ark by Noah? Or how about a vodka made from traditionally farmed Bolivian quinoa? If any of this whets your appetite, you are not alone.In the past five years there has been an explosion in popularity of so-called “ancient grains” in the American food market. Nice article.
  • One Green Planet: What Are Ancient Grains & Why Should You Eat Them? Many ancient grains, or heritage grains, are gluten-free and versatile. From amaranth to spelt, ancient grains are loaded with trace vitamins and protein to keep you going. This particular group of grains is revered for its age and history: Greeks and Romans offered spelt to the gods; Aztecs considered chia seeds worthy of tribute, and farro is noted in the Old Testament. A resurgence of the old and the antiquated has made these grains once again shine in the spotlight, but what are they really?Ancient grains are more than just relics from the past that have stood the test of time; they are cereals and seeds that have a robust texture and stellar nutritional profile.” Another good article.